Cuba mounted pictures of US soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison onto billboards outside the US mission in Havana in retaliation for US Christmas illuminations highlighting Cuban dissidents.
Cars drive on Havana’s seafront boulevard El Malecon while passing Christmas decoration in the yards of the U.S.Interest Section (R) and a giant billboard, showing pictures with tortures scenes from Iraq’s U.S.-run prison Abu Ghraib, set up on the other side, December 17, 2004.
The decorations war on the Malecon avenue along Havana’s sea front escalated as Cuba ended wargames intended to dissuade any US invasion.
But President Fidel Castro has also met a US delegation that wants to sell 100 million dollars of much needed food and agricultural products to the Communist island.
The Cuban authorities were infuriated when the US special interests section put up Christmas lights that had a neon “75” as the centerpiece surrounded by traditional Christmas trees.
The number was a pointed reference to 75 Cuban dissidents detained by the Communist authorities last year in a crackdown on the opposition.
The chief US representative in Havana, James Cason, was summoned to the Cuban foreign ministry on Monday but refused to take down the decorations.
Cuba responded by putting up a huge billboard in front of the US mission showing the Abu Ghraib abuse images that caused a global scandal earlier this year. The accompanying slogan proclaims: “Fascists Made In USA.”
Near the public entrance to the building another image was put up showing an American marine pointing his rifle at the head of a child under the words: “Merry Christmas.”
The Cuban authorities have also put up red flags with the Nazi crosses emblazoned on them.
A diplomat at the US mission, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Cuban response was “fanatical and exaggerated.”
“There cannot be a better contrast. On one side the United States is wishing Cubans a happy holidays ... and an effort to launch a debate on human rights. On the other there is an assortment of aggressive billboards,” added the diplomat.
Cuba has not had normal diplomatic relations with the United States since 1961, but each has an interests section in the other’s capital for consular business. Their rivalry has regularly spilled over into such undiplomatic antics.
The Communist island this week staged wargames involving hundreds of thousands of regular troops, reservists, students and civilians to prepare for what the authorities have called US plans for an invasion.
Defence Minister Raul Castro, the president’s younger brother, said the exercises were intended to make sure the United States “does not commit the errors it made in Vietnam and that it is now committing in Iraq. So that they do not underestimate our people, who are united and more powerful than those in Iraq.”
However president Castro welcomed in Havana a group of US farm business representatives who hope to seal another 100 million dollars of contracts.
Castro met the delegation on Thursday and told them they would always have a market for their food products, the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper reported Friday.
The United States eased its embargo with Cuba in 2001 to allow “humanitarian” trade. And Castro said the US delegation “is not harming anyone and not damaging their country.”
With the latest contracts, more than one billion dollars of US food and farm products have been sold to Cuba since December 2001.
Castro stood for a photo with the delegation. The 78-year-old Cuban leader had been in a wheelchair since breaking a knee and fracturing an arm in a fall in October.